Audiophila started in the days of vinyl, but boomed most during the post-1982 Compact Disc era despite the cries from the geeks who think that the higher signal to noise ratio and lack of dynamic range of vinyl records somehow sounds "better" than digital audio, even when digital audio reached HD standards with SACD and DVD-Audio. These are the same people taking about, writing about and publishing hype about a resurgence of vinyl when the total U.S. sales numbers in 2009, according to Nielsen-Soundscan for ALL vinyl records will barely top 2,000,000 units. That's not just for one popular title (note: Thriller sold close to 47,000,000 units) - that's a total sold for all of the new vinyl records. Allow me to translate - vinyl is and remains dead, even if Millenials like to retro-shop at Amoeba Records for old, used records. Used records do not an HD format make or are a meaningful business, nor are Millennial teeny-boppers buying Goldmund turntables and fancy phono stages for their iPod-based playback systems. The new blood must be embraced, but they also need to be sold to with products that they understand, and that means something a little more high definition than a crappy old LP or a 30 year old standard definition Compact Disc.
Case in point: EA Sports Madden 2010 football reportedly sold 3,900,000 units in its first quarter at over $50 retail per title. Make the content compelling, HD, and riveting and people will pay big bucks for it like a top video game title. Down-res music to sell to the lowest common denominator and you have music that's sold, ripped and stolen for an iPod, phone or computer system.
There are those who say that the audiophile business can't be saved from itself, and they make a compelling argument. They say the people who made the business special are gone or in diminished roles. They say dealers sell video over audio despite the thin video profit margins because video is easier to sell to consumers who believe what they see more than what they hear. They say that specialty dealers don't offer any "special" experiences at the store, including relevant, high-value audio systems, so consumers take the low-cost option and buy from big-box stores to save money in tough times.
I can see all of the above arguments as valid but I think at the same time, that people love music more today in 2010 than ever before. The iPod has given hundreds of millions of people access to thousands of songs all-day, every-day for every part of their lives. These people, just like Baby Boomers who got started young with transistor radios, likely will want something a little more high end for their music down the road, and that's the power I see potentially saving specialty audio going forward.
Here are five ideas to save the audiophile business:
1. Bring New Blood To The Game:
a. Invite over your kid's friends to do a vinyl, CD and iPod blind listening test. Whoever gets it right gets a special prize (dinner out, $20 for the mall, let them drive your Ferrari to the prom). Teach them to listen a little more critically. Ask them to describe the sound of each format in terms that they are comfortable with.
b. Organize a Battle of the Bands with a local high school music program, a local recording studio and a local AV store that supports audio. Pick a theme, and have five bands play say, three Beatles cover tunes. The winning band gets a free pair of speakers or headphones or something. The recording studio comes out and records the event live in 24/192 (totally doable with a Mac laptop and about $2,000 in equipment and one person) and then produces DVD or Blu-ray discs of the performance that can ONLY be picked up at the local store. Parents will come in. They will also look at HD video and HD audio of their kids playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or "A Day In The Life" at the store. Foot traffic, passion and enthusiasm are created with the kids and the parents who can buy the gear.
2. Buy Local
a. There are times when the deals on eBay, Audiogon and Craig's List are just too good to resist, but buying local helps support dealers that need your support. Make it known to the manager why you buy from their store, what you might want to see in the stores and beyond. Go so far as to email or write to the AV companies whose equipment the dealer sells. Let them know why you buy local and how you support the dealer. This builds community, support and opportunities for more demos and much more.
b. You can go out of state to save taxes, which a lot of people do on the East Coast. If you do this - don't cry when you can't get a good audiophile demo from your local store. Why should they floor a $10,000 preamp for a year when the order (note: I didn't call it a sale) goes to the guy 100 miles away, out of state, who didn't have to take any risk other than emailing in the purchase order.